UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION
NATHAN KAMAL

Survivors

          I do not know by what machinations my fatherís miraculous house survives. I only should be grateful that it does, he tells me, or else I would disappear under the dust, like everything else,

Jean-Sebastien Monzani
like everyone else. The house feeds my father and me, sustains us, even carries us from place to place when the rock-sand becomes too fragile and can no longer bear our weight, like a rotted orange squashing underfoot. The earth is hollow, he tells me, an empty beehive, all the honey gone, gone, gone. Even now, I can feel the house begin to tremble, the crowded walls quivering with sudden excitement. A lurch, and weíre off, off to nowhere once again.

          I consider my hand for a moment as I draw open the heavy velvet curtain, pale and slack, like a starved maggot crawling across the cloth. I shudder for a moment. There are no mirrors here. I want no mirrors here. So my father has not commanded the house to produce any. No mirrors for the maggot.

          Sunlight floods through the room, or something like it. On this side of the window, in the sudden red glare, my world of bric-a-brac, found treasures, wonders, gewgaws, miracles become tawdry. There is nothing here but old books, plastic china, Andy Warhol cans, garbage. Even my holiest relics lose their luster. On the wall, Elvis Presley shrinks, his distended belly sinking back into the portrait until it is only a streak of paint on velvet. I do not open the curtains often. On the other side of the window, the sun is low and pregnant, bulging like the throat of a poisonous toad. It does not exude much warmth, my father tells me- our house provides everything for us. Everything. My father is a great scientist.

          We shudder and shake as the house stomps its way over the red sand, and my father appears in the doorway. Outlined by the wasteland light, he is as seamed and weathered as a strip of dried meat. I hastily close the curtain.

          Why was the curtain open? He asks. Nothing to see out there.

          I say nothing, but hunker into my favorite armchair beside the window and stare up at him. I know he finds it hard to gaze upon me, and so I force it at every opportunity.

          Please donít open the curtain again, my father tells me.

          My father is a great man.

***

          Was there a war? I donít know. I only woke one morning, and our house was striding these hollow lands, searching for I know not what. Perhaps it was a great drought, although that would not explain why we can no longer go outside, like when I was a little girl. Many years ago. Perhaps it was a war, and I passed through it in a bad dream, the mushroom clouds wavering and thinning in the great atomic winds that follow, spreading that strange dust from country to country, pole to pole, across the oceans, across the cities, across the snow. Until there was just us. Father and Me.

          Alone.

***

          Mother wasnít there when I woke.

***

          The house settles and hunkers down on its haunches, panting with effort. This place is safe to rest for a while, apparently. Through the thin soles of my slippers, the floor hums and buzzes, and I can only imagine vague gears, tarnished wheels and iron teeth, whatever obsolete technologies that make this miraculous thing to be. My father does not answer questions. It would be easier if he were a cruel man. But he only does his best.

          When I am certain he is in another room, holed up in his laboratory, devising yet another layer of perfection this gilded tulip we call a home, I tweak a corner of the dusty velvet open. Outside, itís much the same as it was before. We could have gone a thousand miles, or just the other side of a hill. Itís all the same now. The sand cannot support life, my father tells me. There is no more rain, even if some errant seed could find a purchase. No more animals, not even insects or vermin. The dithering song of the mosquito exists only in our memories now. I see a few dead trees somehow still standing, scraggly pathetic things bare of blossom and fruit. I know how they feel.

***

          Sometimes, when I sleep in the little room that is mine, surrounded by the worldís last remaining plush menagerie, my father enters. He thinks I sleep, but only those who eternally lie can sleep well. Like him.

          It doesnít happen often. My father is a great man.

***

          My only occupation is in collection. The house knows this- I suspect that it has some strange instincts, perhaps programmed into its very walls and floors. Or maybe there is a central computer screen glowing unearthly green that only my father may converse with, and discuss masculine matters that a girl should not know. I donít know.

          The house sends down great funnels, like snakes dripping out of an elephantís womb and suctions up whole households, whole libraries for me. For my father, too, I suppose, but he has no interest in such things, only in the continuing improvement of our dog-like home. It has a need to satisfy, to please the two of us. That is where my Velvet Elvis came from, how I come by all my treasures. I sift through what is brought to me, carefully cleansed of the outside abominations, and select whatever strikes my fancy. Sometimes there are diamonds and emeralds, loose and brilliant. Sometimes only tchotchke.

***

          Sometimes, I kill my father.

          And the sun is golden and warm and blue rivers wash across the sand and the trees all explode in halos of the most beautiful green that could ever be imagined, by anyone, ever, and I run out of the house, far away, my skin bronzed and smooth, and I fall into the arms of a thousand dusky-eyed lovers and sleep forever in soft fields of lavender where the crickets sing for me all night long, all night long.

          When I awake, the velvet curtains tremble and my breath seems to catch in my throat like a mousetrap.

***

          His hand is on my shoulder. I shudder. His eyes will be closed. He does not like to look at me.

          It has now been several centuries, by my reckoning. The house provides everything for us, sustains us even as the trembling mockeries we have become. I cannot remember when I did not feel borrowed, like an empty sack stretched across bones. I am a maggot burrowing in my own flesh. We cannot die, we two survivors. We cannot die.

          My father is a great man.

Nathan Kamal lives in Portland, Oregon and spends a lot of time in the sun.







© 2008 Underground Voices